Jake Kocorowski of Buckys5thQuarter.com took the time to sit down with us and discuss the Badgers’ expectations, the tight contests of late between Michigan and Wisconsin, and more.
Josh LaFond: Is this season Big Ten Title or bust for the Badgers?
Jake Kocorowski: From the outside looking in for Wisconsin, I feel like the window to capture the Big Ten championship perhaps closes a little after this year.
There is a ton of firepower on offense, along with some key defensive standouts returning to help a unit losing seven starters and two key contributors. Wisconsin is at that point where they could be thought of as “reloading” each year rather than discussions of a “rebuild,” based on their success. This season, they are the standout favorites to win the West, and despite a tough crossover schedule where they head to Penn State and Michigan, they have a great chance to head back to Indianapolis.
The biggest question is can they get over the hump against an Ohio State or potentially Penn State. Last year, I thought was maybe the best chance due to its stout defense. This year on paper, Wisconsin’s offense should carry them if the defensive unit needs more refinement — though no team should count out Jim Leonhard’s squad with linebackers T.J. Edwards, Ryan Connelly and Andrew Van Ginkel.
Next season (2019) will get more interesting in the Big Ten West with a Purdue team in its third year under Jeff Brohm’s direction, a Northwestern team with a former five-star quarterback eligible to play and then Scott Frost at Nebraska heading into year two of his reclamation project in Lincoln.
Josh: Does Alex Hornibrook have the talent and potential to lead Wisconsin to glory?
Jake: I think he does. Let me state, Hornibrook is not a Russell Wilson-type player with the ability to scramble, but he could be a left-handed Scott Tolzien. He showed the potential as he thrashed Miami’s secondary in the Capital One Orange Bowl back on Dec. 30, throwing for four touchdown passes and allowing his receivers to make plays on passes that only they could make.
The biggest thing is reducing those interceptions. Fifteen passes last year wound up in defenders’ hands. He has the even-keeled ability to bounce back from mistakes and lead the offense to points (see: the touchdown drive vs. Michigan last year immediately after throwing an interception in Wisconsin territory that momentarily led to a 10-7 Wolverines lead).
Now, it’s just growing this season with another year under his belt. With the weapons around him and a seasoned, All-American line this season, the expectations are high.
Josh: I’m going to ask somewhat of a follow up to that last question...
Hornibrook did do some good things last year, but Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor is still the bellcow if this offense. That being said, will this Badger offense be focused on the ground game or has the improved game of Alex Hornibrook forced Coach Chryst to make this a more balanced look?
Jake: The bread and butter of Wisconsin’s offense is the running game behind its massive offensive line. This season, the Badgers have three All-Americans returning (Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards) plus a freshman All-American in center Tyler Biadasz. Couple that with Heisman-caliber Jonathan Taylor, and this could be an amazing year on the ground.
Yet the offense not only has Hornibrook, but four legit wide receivers in its two-deep that can give secondaries trouble. So when you say the improved game of the southpaw, it’s not just him but the receiving game as a whole. Quintez Cephus was putting up all-conference numbers before his season-ending injury at Indiana. A.J. Taylor followed an eight-reception game at the Orange Bowl with an impressive spring showing. Then you have a play-maker on 50-50 balls in sophomore Danny Davis, while redshirt sophomore Kendrick Pryor showed he can be a threat in both the passing game and rushing the ball.
I won’t say this offense will be 50-50 balanced, but the passing attack has some viable threats that will give opposing secondaries fits.
Josh: Who are one or two teams in the Big Ten West who could give Wisconsin a run for its money?
Jake: Agh, this is a hard one. Wisconsin’s road schedule this year is tough, especially with contests at Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern (Ryan Field is historically not kind to the Badgers), Penn State and Purdue, but I’m wondering myself who steps up. Northwestern may return Clayton Thorson for the season opener but don’t have Justin Jackson at running back. Iowa loses Josh Jackson at cornerback but Nate Stanley should be intriguing at quarterback. Nebraska will be feisty this year under Scott Frost but the program will need year or two to build itself back up.
I guess I’d say Iowa or Purdue. I really like what Jeff Brohm has done, and we’ll definitely see if they regress to the mean after a stellar first season under him, but we’ll see if they can challenge Wisconsin at West Lafayette.
Josh: The last two games, the Badgers and Wolverines have gone to the wire. Although it’s still preseason, can we expect much of the same this season?
Jake: I think so. I’m excited to see Wisconsin’s offense vs. Michigan’s defense. Can the All-American Badgers offensive line contain Rashan Gary and Co.? Will Shea Patterson or whichever Michigan quarterback emerges find cracks in a Wisconsin defense working to replace seven starters?
The game itself comes during possibly the strongest three-game stretch of the season for Wisconsin, which faces Iowa, Nebraska and then Michigan (there’s a bye week between Iowa and Nebraska), but two of those three games are road contests. It should bear watching if Wisconsin has found the answers it wants defensively halfway through the season.
I want to extend my thanks to Jake Kocorowski and the team over at Bucky’s 5th Quarter. They truly provide excellent coverage of the Badgers on the turf, the hardwood, and more. For all news on Wisconsin athletics head on over to Buckys5thQuarter.com.